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Sat 14 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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The evolution of Dubai

Cityscape 2009 may have been a much more muted affair, but the attendant World Architecture Congress featured a lively debate about the growing importance of infrastructure and the long-term maintainability of buildings.

The evolution of Dubai
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum opens Cityscape 2009.
The evolution of Dubai
For a bit, Cityscape Dubai seemed like a throwback to the boom years.

Cityscape 2009 may have been a much more muted affair, but the attendant World Architecture Congress featured a lively debate about the growing importance of infrastructure and the long-term maintainability of buildings.

The economic downturn is spurring the continued evolution of the construction industry.  "The market is no longer speculative, but is about supply and demand and creating the right product. It is not just about design anymore, but more about constructability and functionality. The execution is so bad; in 10 to 15 years many buildings will have structural problems," warned Hines MD Dr Jurgen Herre at the World Architecture Congress at Cityscape 2009.

The current situation of over-supply in the residential and office space markets had resulted in "competition between good and not-so-good buildings." This posed a particular challenge to architects in particular: "how to make Dubai feel like an urban space where people feel inclined to stay longer than three years ..." Hence property management is going to become ever more critical.

"What will be an A1 location in Dubai in 10 years' time? Or even in 12 to 24 months around the Burj Dubai after the Dubai Metro is fully operational? It will be a totally different ball game. Developers will be obliged to keep the end user in mind. Who will be the people inhabiting these buildings? Most projects are targeting the high end. We have to provide solutions for the middle class, as their needs are not being addressed."

Dr Herre warned that sustainability and ‘green' technology only stood a chance of succeeding "if it increased profits or added value." The focus is shifting from rental per square metre to a total cost approach.

"If a building has better indoor air quality, then sick days go down, posing a significant benefit." Many modern buildings are aesthetically pleasing, but what about their maintainability in years to come, questioned Dr Herre. Such an approach was initially more expensive, he admitted, but if it is integrated during the design stage, then it only represented an incremental cost increase. Additional value

"It creates additional value for you as the ultimate owner, as you can ask higher rents for a more efficient building. Investors will accept a reduced capitalisation rate as the maintenance will be lower."

Green Technologies MD Mario Seneviratne said the ‘hot topic' at the moment was reducing the region's carbon footprint, one of the highest in the world, and making sustainable communities. "We receive nine out of ten enquiries as to LEED accreditation after tender stage. There is no chance of achieving LEED Platinum after the schematic design stage, as you have already missed the opportunity of many common-sense things. Sustainability should be the mainstream focus of any project, and not just an add-on along the way."

Seneviratne added that all professionals involved had to assume responsibility for achieving sustainability. "It is impossible to carry out a sustainable project without the entire team on board at the beginning, especially in terms of goal-setting and continuous monitoring. Energy modelling is an integral part of this process." London's city planning officer Peter Rees concurred succinctly when he remarked: "Any fool can design a good building, but it takes a genius to design a good space."

Remaking

He said that the industry needed to focus on "remaking spaces that have ceased to be places. Dubai is still relatively new, comprising individual buildings with nothing much in-between. We have got to figure out what to do with these spaces. It is not just bankers who have gotten us into this mess; we ourselves have been producing ‘wacky buildings'."

Rees said the industry was in a position where it was now possible to build anything. However, after the downturn, "people are now starting to look at the real worth of buildings." This means that ancillary disciplines such as MEP and FM will play an increasingly more important role in the brave new world being built.

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